MIDDLEBURG - With a pre-state meet level cross country date set for Sat., Oct. 5, Fleming Island High School's boys and girls cross country teams both cruised to team titles at the Clay County Cross Country championship races held at Middleburg High School on Wed., Oct. 2.
"We want them to run together for most of the race and get through it for Saturday's races," said Fleming Island boys coach Chris Otero. "Now is the time to pick our battles and prepare for districts and regions."
At the front, the trio of Oakleaf High's Dylan Nelson and Ajani Stokes took the first mile of the race with Middleburg High's John Scholz tagging along for the ride in hopes of maybe stealing at title from his two faster front runners.
"I got out fast most of the time and I hoped that maybe I could hang on a little longer and have a chance on the track (one lap of track to finish line)," said Scholz, who had inched closer to a sub-17 minute finish time in prevous weeks with a 17:40 at Bartram Trail and a 17:21 at Ponte Vedra last week.
At the finish, on the somewhat treacherous course that features a root-filled backside behind Middleburg High School, Nelson won handily in 17:31.71 to become the Knights first-ever county cross country champion with Stokes overtake Scholz on the track to take second in 17:57.45. Scholz would stay close with a third place spot at 18:01.82. Clay High's Carlton Waiguru was fourth in 18:21.32 with a Fleming Island foursome of Kameron Wallizada, John Brinkman, William Livesy and Landon Opp stacking up the next four spots. Ridgeview's Jose Paolo Garcia split Jayden Scherer from the Fleming Island five with a ninth place finish ahead of Scherer.
For the girls, Fleming Island sophmore Mei Chiang continued with her front-running style to win overwhelmingly in 20:39.33 with three Fleming Island teammates; Marisa Kortright, Grace Adams and Morgan Erler following and securing the team title. Middleburg High's Emma Mussante, Oakleaf's Hannah Johnson and Ridgeview's Anna Magruder followed the Fleming Island pack.
Fleming Island had five more filling out the top 12.
In a meet at the Suwannee Country Club in Live Oak on September 27, St. Johns Country Day School junior Matthew Stratton kept his eye on the prize at the site of the upcoming (Oct. 23) district 2-1A championships with a fast second place finish in 16:29.50 to Tallahassee Maclay senior Junious Brown's 16:08.50 winning split at the Live Oak Twilight Invitational. Brown won the district 2-1A title last year ahead of St. Johns' graduated Benjamin Kailes, now at the University of South Florida, with Stratton fifth with an injured foot.
Brown finished third in Class 1A last year in 16:03 with Stratton taking eighth in 16:19.63 as the first state medalist for St. Johns Country Day School.
In Live Oak, Stratton had Kailes' younger brother Jacob, a junior, as his wing man with a 17:32.50 effort for seventh place.
"Jacob has slowly moved closer to the front for us," said St. Johns coach Greg Stratton. "We wanted to run the district course and we knew Maclay was coming so it was a little preview of what we need to do next time. Junios is a strong finisher and Matthew may have to do some damage in the middle of the race to counter that."
Maclay would win the team title at the Live Oak meet with St. Johns seventh.
In the girls race, Maclay's Ella Porcher, just a freshman, ran 19:35.40 to out last University Christian sophomore Laci Watford. Watford's runnerup finished prevented a top five finish for Maclay's squad.
St. Johns had sophomore Evelyn Hanson, Kaitlyn Phillips and Juliet Moody in at 13-14-16 to finish fifth.
At the Leslie Baker Invite at Sandalwood High on September 28, Clay High's Carlton Waiguri finished second in 17:56 to secure a fourth place team finish for the Blue Devils with Gainesville winning the team trophy.
In the girls race, Clay's Madisyn Blackburn took fourth in 23:35.